Monday, 18 February 2013

Chronology and the politicisation of history teaching

Last Saturday I posted about the proposed new National Curriculum and its programme of study for History.  Yesterday's Sunday papers splashed big on the subject.

Among much hyperbole and inaccurate reporting (no, Observer, Key Stage 3 does not end at age 18), there was an excellent, balanced letter from the presidents of various historical societies.  It's worth reading in full but I'll quote a couple of passages here.

First, they note (as I did) the issue of relegating all pre-modern history to primary schools, where it won't be taught by specialist historians:
we regret that the construction of the Programme in a strictly chronological sequence from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 ensures that many students will not be properly exposed to the exciting and intellectually demanding study of pre-modern history other than in the very earliest stages of their studies.
More fundamentally, they criticise the way the curriculum was drafted:
The contrast with the practice of the Conservative government of the late 1980s when it drafted the first national curriculum is striking. Then, a history Working group, including teachers, educational experts and academics, worked in tandem with the ministry of the day to produce first an interim report and than a final report in the midst of much public discussion.
The curriculum that resulted was widely supported across many professional and political divisions in the teaching and academic professions and by the general public. The current government was certainly right to feel that after many interim changes it was time for a fresh look. Unfortunately, it has not attempted to assemble the same kind of consensus and, as a result, it has produced a draft curriculum that it can be argued could still benefit from extensive discussion about how to ensure that it best serves both good practice and the public interest.
This, I'd suggest, is the result of a political climate that combines a distrust of the teaching profession with a desire to use history as a tool to promote national pride and placate the Conservative base.  As the letter-writers recognise, there is much in the new curriculum to welcome, but such policy-making motives are unlikely to benefit future generations of schoolchildren.

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